According to the 2010 Census, married couples now represent less than half of U.S. households – 48%, to be exact. As the marriage rate declines, the prevalence of same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual couples is on the rise, and these couples are urgently in need of good estate plans.
The census numbers may reflect a shift in the way Americans are choosing to structure their families, but the laws that govern estate planning issues are still geared toward married couples. So, if you’re not in a traditional marriage, you can’t rely on the default rules provided by the government to take care of you and yours in the event of death or disability.
For example, if you’re not married, there are certain estate tax benefits that aren’t automatically available to you, your children might not automatically go to your partner in the event of your death, and if you become incapacitated, your partner might be barred from accessing your medical records or making health care decisions for you.
If you’re unmarried and you want to have a say in the way your family is taken care of in the event of your death or disability, you need to have an effective estate plan. This includes, at a minimum, a will or trust to control what happens to your property (and to your minor children) when you pass away, plus an incapacity plan that puts someone you trust in charge of your finances and your health care in the event of an injury or illness that leaves you disabled.
If you don’t have an estate plan, now is the time to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure you and your loved ones are protected.